No smoke needed: Discovering a Latvian early warning wildfire detection system

By Georgia Tindale

As we have seen in yet another summer of horrendous wildfires across the globe, which crept their way across North Africa, Greece, Tenerife and Canada, when a wildfire strikes, there is no time to waste.

Latvian company, Baltic Satellite Service, has teamed up with partners AD TELECOM (in Spain) and AXSYSNAV (in France), on an innovative early warning technology for wildfire detection: the first of its kind to track fires in real time and guide fire brigades to the incident.

Already attracting interest from clients in Europe and beyond, this early wildfire detection system looks set to become ever more necessary, due to the increase in extreme weather events prompted by climate change.

Merging data from cameras and satellite images

“Satellite imagery helps detect different critical changes in natural environments, meaning you can get this information in the fastest way, as well as being able to cover very large areas.” - Barga

Developed during a three year Eurostars project, this new wildfire prevention system from Baltic Satellite Service, AD TELECOM and AXSYSNAV offers a major advantage over existing wildfire detection and monitoring technologies: the integration of numerous types of data into one system. This allows Baltic Satellite Service to provide a greater depth of information than other companies can.

The information is gathered from AD TELECOM’s high-tech cameras, which will detect fires in real time, as well as satellite imagery and forest data from Baltic Satellite Services.

In practice, this means that brave firefighters are offered a more detailed, accurate and comprehensive picture of where the fires are, and precisely what they are up against, thus aiding them in a successful extinguishing operation.

Although AD TELECOM’s cameras are currently still in the testing stage with its firefighters, Baltic Satellite Service’s fire detection using satellite imagery (which includes its integration of the Copernicus European Forest Fire Information System) and its most recent satellite basemap are currently being offered and used as commercial services by both Estonian and Latvian forest companies.

Reducing (wildfire) risks

On speaking to Ilze Barga, a member of the board at Baltic Satellite Service, it is clear that taking part in Eureka’s Eurostars programme provided a useful rudder for her small team of just five individuals. The programme helped the Latvian company in navigating the often-unpredictable path of research and development for its innovative technology, by offering practical support, external expertise and much more.

“Thanks to Eureka, we now know how to realise an international R&D project, what the procedures are, how to carry out reporting and so on,” Barga explains. “As well as benefitting from valuable external scientific expertise which helped us see what was and was not possible, we were also pleasantly surprised by the flexibility of the programme for making changes as the project progressed. This helped us to develop a solution which satisfied our end-users’ requirements.”

Ridding forests of bark beetles

Even as Baltic Satellite Service continues to fine-tune its technology for tackling forest fires alongside its international partners, it is simultaneously addressing another, less headline grabbing environmental issue: bark beetle attacks.
Bark beetles are somewhat innocuous-looking insects that can cause serious damage to trees affected by fires (especially those older than 30 years) and kill them in the course of just one or two months, causing yet more devastation to areas already touched by wildfires.

“These insects are dangerous and cause major problems across all European countries, in Asia and in Canada too, so it is important to detect them as soon as possible. As a result, we are developing a new application for bark beetle detection and cooperating with another satellite imagery provider, Planet, to do so,” explains Barga.

The data provided by Planet spans many different countries and provides many detailed images every month. Once these are analysed, the application can detect new spots where the bark beetles have damaged the forest, thus enabling the forest or national park owners to react immediately and remove the infected trees, saving the healthy trees.

Plant the seed and go for it

“There are so many opportunities and funding programmes, as well as business incubators where SMEs can really get involved and bring their idea to life” - Barga

Finally, when it comes to current prospects for SMEs looking to kick off their own R&D and innovation projects in both her field and elsewhere, Barga is encouraging: “If you are considering an R&D project, I would say, go out and do it – just make sure you start with the end-user’s needs and problems and always keep your focus on this.”

She explains that on sending a project proposal to the European Space Agency (ESA), Baltic Satellite Service are now receiving funding to, as she says, “do what we love doing.” Barga wonders: “What could be better than that?”

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Posted 15 December 23